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University Hospital conducts mock drills, erects triage tents to prepare for possible patient surge in San Antonio

2 large tents outside emergency room entrance serve as triage site in case of coronavirus spike

SAN ANTONIO – University Hospital medical teams spent the week rehearsing its response to a potential flood of COVID-19 patients checking in at the Emergency Department.

According to a news release, two large tents were erected outside the emergency entrance that serve as the triage site for quickly identifying patients who may be infected with the virus. The 20-by-40 foot main tent is equipped with 24 evaluation stations. A second tent is available for patient screening if needed.

In mock drills, teams separate possible COVID-19 patients from others needing treatment because of car accidents, heart problems, burns and other traditional conditions.

“We have designed this to be able to handle a large volume of patients,” said Dr. Christina Bird, Emergency Department medical director for University Health System and UT Health. “We just don’t know when that’s going to happen.”

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In the event of a patient surge, emergency teams will implement a process that begins with a quick assessment at a nurse’s station outside the main emergency entrance. Patients will be given masks. Those without COVID-19 symptoms will be directed into the hospital for standard emergency care. Those who may be COVID-positive and in distress will be sent to indoor isolation rooms for further treatment.

Patients who are stable, but concerned about COVID-19 symptoms, will be escorted to evaluation stations inside the tent, where medical teams will determine if the patients need testing for the virus and hospitalization. Those with mild symptoms will be released and given instructions for monitoring their condition.

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Bird said the exercises are acquainting the hospital’s medical providers with procedures that will allow them to act decisively. She said San Antonio is fortunate it wasn’t the first location inundated with a large volume of sick patients. Her staff has had an opportunity to learn from other hard-hit cities like New York and New Orleans.

“We can use that to change our processes, to make sure we’re ready to handle it,” Bird said. “It’s given us time to develop things like this and to do a mock run so we’re ready to go.”

COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new virus, stands for coronavirus disease 2019. The disease first appeared in late 2019 in Wuhan, China, but spread around the world in early 2020, causing the World Health Organization to declare a pandemic in March.

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